Sunday, June 12, 2016

Distinguishing the Guilty from the Innocent


Are you seeking to use the massacre in Orlando to promote a hatred of and hostility towards people who would not engage it even condone those activities?

If so, you are not the defenders of peace and goodness that you may think yourself to be. Quite the opposite, in fact.

One thing on which we can blame a great deal of injustice is the inability to distinguish the innocent from the guilty.

It us a common story. A member of Group A inflicts an unjust harm on some set of people in Group B. The members of Group B are outraged. Unable to distinguish the innocent from the guilty, they attack members of Group B indiscriminately - not asking who is innocent and show us guilty.

Now, the members of Group B have cause to be outraged. Now they have their own examples of injustices inflicted on innocent members of Group B by members of Group A. Now they are the ones who think that they are justified in inflicting some sort of punishment against Group A.

Similarly lacking the capacity to distinguish the innocent from the guilty, they indiscriminately attack members of Group A. Consequently, Group A now has another set of injustices to blame on Group B, which they use for another round of indiscriminate attacks.

As this back-and-forth grows, both sides acquire an ever-growing list of atrocities that they can use to justify attacks on the other. The lists are genuine. Neither side needs to make anything up. There are read injustices. A bombing of a nightclub over here, a drone strike on a family sitting down to dinner over there. Every item on the list justifies the next attack.

The only hope for ending this game is for one side or the other - of both - to learn to tell the difference between the innocent and the guilty.

Every post I see making over road accusations - that promote hatred of people, many of whom would refuse to condone the activities that others use as reason to hate them - is a post by somebody who is actually responsible for feeding the violence.

Members of Group A will want to assert that Group A is the paradigm of virtue and all guilt rests with Group B. Group B will say the same of Group A.

The real culprits are the members of both groups who, failing to distinguish the innocent from the guilty, add one line of injustice after another to the list. The real people wanting to put and end to this cycle are those who assert that they will not condemn the innocent but, instead, assert that they will only condemn those which evidence links to the crime.

If you are looking for the ideology most responsible for such atrocities - then that is where you will find it. You will find it among a group of people who share a common belief - that they need make no effort to distinguish the guilty from the innocent, and are eager to use opportunities such as this to promote a hatred against guilty and innocent alike. People who follow that ideology are setting the groundwork for the next act of unjust violence, and it will be members of that group who will carry out that act.


Dennis McGee said...

Thanks. you make a balanced argument here and in other places on your blog. People are more loyal to their moral clubs than they are to the stated moral aims that their club may purport and yet may follow this kind of flawed reasoning unwittingly.

Do you answer these questions on your blog:
If you are an atheist, how did you become one?
Why do you want to leave the world better than you found it?

I was an atheist with a similar aim to change the world. Surprisingly, that kind of free thinking led me to find God.
I've found a few who had similar paths: JRR Tolkien, GK Chesterton, CS Lewis, Francis Collins, Blaise Pascal, EF Schumacher, Hugh Ross, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, etc.

I think you'll see something about that path.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I do not discuss atheism much in this blog - there are more than enough places where one can discuss such things if that is what one is seeking. I only mention it to confront the bigotry that exists whereby atheism is equated with immorality.

A key event for explaining how I became an atheist concerns a time when I was in the second or third grade (7 or 8 years old) when I found and read a book of stories on the Ancient Greek gods. I came to the conclusion that all God stories are fiction and that if was entirely possible for a large group of people to believe that such fictions were true.

Those stories also taught me that the questions, "What does God want us to do?" and "What is a good thing to do?" are two different questions - and that we need to answer the latter question first in order to know whether what God wants us to do (or, more precisely, what people are saying that God wants is to do) is good or not.

So, really, while I doubt that any God exerts, I also hold that the question of whether a god exists is unimportant when compared to the question of what is good.

Of course, my 8 year old self did not use this same language, but this expresses the concepts.

As to why I want to leave the world better off than it would have been?

Here, we must distinguish between ends and means. Means are explained in terms of ends and beliefs. Ends, on the other hand, are explained in terms of an interaction between genes and the environment.

Why do I wish to avoid being burned? Because being burned would hurt and I wish to avoid pain.
Why do I wish to avoid pain? That has to do with an interaction between my genes and the environment.

Why do I wish to leave the world a better place? I believe that is a question that requires an answer in terms of the interaction between genes and the environment.